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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Norway's Place in the World: The Peace Nation

Article by: Sabrina Eriksen

Norway’s track-record as a Peacebuilder

Many Norwegians take pride in being perceived as a peaceful country. Their advocacy for open international political dialogues and their involvement as a third-party peace mediator (for instance, in Colombia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Israel/Palestine and Guatemala) has given them a domestic and international reputation for being a “peace nation”. However, it was not until the 1990s, after the Cold War, that Norway officially self-identified as this. So, what are the different historical, social and geopolitical aspects that helped shape Norway’s foreign policy, and pushed them to identify as a “peace nation”?

The Norwegian Model

Before embarking on how Norway came to be associated with peace, it is important to define what a "peace nation" really is. In 2007, “the Norwegian model” was created by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to create a framework for their foreign policy. Many Norwegians believe that their involvement as a peace mediator in conflicts, and their general encouragement of dialogues and negotiations are the main characteristics that make them a “peace nation”. The country has long had a willingness and ability to discuss and include all parties involved in a conflict, independent of international recognition.

In addition to this, many Norwegians think that the involvement of civil society and NGOs in the peace dialogues is another characteristic of a “peace nation”. And to add to this, they believe that their general engagement with development projects, aid to other countries, and involvement with central international actors (such as the UN) are also key factors. So, the interesting question to ask is what historical and geopolitical factors have led to Norway’s creation of “The Norwegian Model”?

The legacy of independence from Sweden

Many political scientists believe that the dismantling of the Norwegian and Swedish Union was pivotal to shaping Norwegian foreign policy, considering that this is one of the only peaceful secessions to have taken place in modern history. Historians on the matter highlight that many European countries were against Norway’s complete independence from Sweden in 1905, as they believed this would lead to instability and turbulence in Europe. As a result, Norway’s first foreign policy ‘mantra’ was essentially to keep peaceful and diplomatic relations, so as not to provoke or increase the tension with other regional countries.

The Legacy of Fridtjof Nansen

Many scholars and leaders have pointed to Fridtjof Nansen’s legacy as one important source of Norway’s claimed tradition of peaceful foreign policy. Considering Nansen is a national treasure to most Norwegians, his opinions of what Norway’s foreign policy ought to entail have arguably left a great impact on the public’s views.

First and foremost, he was a known spokesperson for international liberalism. He was involved in peace meddling and conflict resolution after the Armenian Genocide. And, he was a strong advocate for international institutions such as the League of Nations and argued for the inclusion of Germany and the Soviet Union in order to make it increasingly successful. He also strongly believed in humanitarianism and aid as a means to create world peace, and embarked upon many projects that sought to give aid to refugees from the Soviet Union after WWII.

The Guatemalan Case

Some claim that Norway’s first mission as a peace mediator was in 1989, through their involvement in the Guatemalan civil war, which laid out the framework for a confidently neutral national identity. What is interesting to notice is that there was no historical, cultural, economic or strategic purpose for Norway to be involved in this conflict. Rather some historians say that Norwegian intervention was spurred by the labour party’s Egelands and Stoltenberg’s strong solidarity principles as well as Stålsett and Skauens’ compassion principles emerging from Christianity.

The Materialisation of this Foreign Policy

Notably, from the post-cold war until the early 21st century, the white papers on foreign policy expose how the rhetoric and foreign policy of Norway being a "peace nation" properly materialised. For instance, one white paper leading up to the Guatemalan conflict focused on promoting development and humanitarian aid in the global South. Later on, peace engagement became more institutionalised and the Foreign Ministry, in 2002, added a new section called the “section for peace and reconciliation”. In 2004, the University of Oslo published a major peace research paper titled, “The Norwegian Peace Tradition”. And in 2006, the government’s funding for peace research dramatically increased.

Geo- and Domestic Politics: “Impotent Superpower – potent small state”

The end of the Cold war meant that NATO did not stand as strongly, and countries could now explore more individualised foreign policy identities. Jan Egeland was a strong advocate for Norway becoming a peace mediator due to its geopolitical and historical identity. For instance, as a country with a relatively small population, Norway has little chance of exerting any effective economical pressure in the way superpowers can. Because of this, the only way to get involved in and influence conflicts around the world is by advocating for human rights and creating a space for negotiations. They believed that this would suit them the best as they have historically been engaged in both the post-war League of Nations and now the UN, as well as their lack of a dark colonial past. They also have a long history of providing foreign aid and helping with state-building. Therefore, this “peace nation” concept became the most appealing form of identity for Norway.

Also worth mentioning is that domestic politics in Norway is not very polarised. While some parties are considered more right and some more left, they generally agree on the fact that Norway’s foreign policy ought to be marked by its “peaceful” identity.

Norway, the “Peace Nation”

So, Norway’s identity stems from many different areas; the peaceful dismantling of the Swedish/Norwegian union, the legacy of Fridtjof Nansen, and solidarity principles have all arguably shaped Norway’s foreign policy. And in more recent times, the geopolitical position of Norway as a small country has led them to identify as a “peace nation” after the end of the Cold war.

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